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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Honorary Black Lambs

September 1st, 2003

BY BLACK LAMB

September is not specially striking for its supply of literary birthdays, but it makes up in quality whatever it may lack in quantity. Perhaps most notable of the notables is Señor Alcala de Henares, better known as Miguel de Cervantes, who was born on or about September 29 in 1547. His El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, sometimes called the first novel, was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. Cervantes died in 1616 on the same day as Shakespeare, who was his younger contemporary.

While we’re with the biggies, let us not forget Samuel Johnson, born (and died) on September 18, in 1709 and 1784, respectively. He is perhaps the only literary figure of importance to be remembered more for his conversation than for his literary work. Even his monumental dictionary (the first systematic, etymological one in the language) is less well known than his remarks and ripostes, as lovingly recorded by James Boswell, whose surname entered the language to describe all such tireless, sycophantic, devoted followers.

The so-called American-born English poet Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888. When he died on his birthday seventy-seven years later, he had become the most famous poet in the world, and one of the few to have won the Nobel Prize in literature. Having begun as an arch-modernist, he retained his distinctive, laconic voice through his entire career and also single-handedly brought to critical notice the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century.

The year after Eliot won the Nobel, the award went to another American, the novelist William Faulkner (born on the 25th in 1897), who in one short burst during his late twenties and early thirties turned out four masterly novels, among them As I Lay Dying, which, with Frances Scott Key Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is one of the handful of crystalline, concise, and perfect short novels in the language. Fitzgerald was born a year and a day before Faulkner and died nine years before the Mississippian won his big prize.

The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, was born on September 12 in 1880; perhaps no other writer has influenced the tone and style of American prose more. Two world wars later, his writing still stands up as a model of vigorous, memorable, and original utterance.

Several other noteworthy Americans share September birthdays with this magazine’s editor, among them Sherwood Anderson (the 13th in 1876), whose Winesburg, Ohio was an important book in the move away from the nineteenth-century novel tradition; path-breaking Negro author Richard Wright (the 4th, 1908), author of Native Son and Black Boy; one-trick pony John Knowles (the 16th in 1926), who never approached the achievement — or success — of his first book, A Separate Peace; and Truman Capote (the 30th, 1924), a ludicrous little fellow who could write like an angel. The physician and poet William Carlos Williams (born on the 17th in 1883) gets an entire sentence to himself. And so does Ken Kesey, born exactly fifty-two years later.

Toss in D.H. Lawrence (the 11th, in 1885); John Gay (the 16th, 1685), author of The Beggar’s Opera; H.G. Wells (the 21st, 1866); and novelist Fay Weldon (the 22nd, in 1933), and you’ve about done September. Providing you include the Greek tragedist Euripides, whose birthdate is generally figured at Sept. 23, 484 B.C.

And also Edgar Rice Burroughs, Blaise Cendrars, Sarah Orne Jewett, Francois Réne de Chateaubriand, Frédéric Mistral, Stephen Jay Gould, Roald Dahl, and Hilda Doolittle. Birthday greetings from one of your own. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

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